When I was 13 or 14, about two years after moving from Dallas to Abilene in West Texas, I returned home with family after a weekend trip to find our house toilet-papered and shoe-polished. Initially, I was excited; having your house “rolled and shined” can be a sign of popularity and acceptance at that age. A closer view cut me to the core. The polished words in big white letters weren’t fun or positive; they were mean, hateful.
One particular phrase spread out on our driveway and forever burned into my brain read, “Trombone Fag!”
I played trombone in the junior high band and rode my BMX bike to and from school with my long horn case strapped to the handlebars. I was awkward, skinny, insecure and still new in town. Life was tough enough without the added humiliation.
I never knew who did it. I didn’t speak about it to anyone. I don’t recall even talking about it with my parents or siblings—I was too hurt, too devastated. If you’ve ever had bright white shoe polish on your driveway, you know that it doesn’t clean well and doesn’t fade away quickly. The hateful words stained our driveway for months, even years. I recognize now that this experience more than 35 years ago changed me. I put up defenses that have never come down. I believe it’s a reason I tend to be distrustful of people and why I can be overly guarded and private. It’s one of those life wounds that I’ll always carry.
And yet, it’s a wound I’m grateful for. The pain has given me a small glimpse into what it must be like for so many people who suffer ongoing cruelty, abuse and hate for their perceived differences. I’m thinking primarily of people who are gay, lesbian and transgender, but it goes beyond those differences. We’re living in a time when people are being broken out into all sorts of separate groups—along racial lines, gender lines, generational lines, religious lines, and on and on. Much of this is a response to fear, and much of the fear is being deliberately generated to highlight and inflame these perceived divisions—so certain groups can see more clearly who’s “us” and who’s “them.” It’s much easier to hurl insults and spew hate at people when you’re part of a like-minded group that’s whipped up in a fear-based frenzy, acting on a false impulse of self-preservation: “THEY want to destroy us!”
I’ve been blessed in my life to know and develop friendships with people who are gay, lesbian and transgender, as well as people who are different and unique in numerous ways. As I recall these connections and friendships, with each person I’ve been amazed by the capacity for genuine caring, compassion and kindness. This is incredible to me, given the life experiences many of these wonderful human beings have endured. With my little wound, I have a glimpse, but I can’t imagine how painful and difficult it must be for anyone—for any reason—to receive ongoing insults, disapproval and outright hate with no end in sight. My reaction has always been to feel compassion for their life experience and admiration for their perseverance, strength and courage. And love, because I want them to know that they are worthy of all the love in the world. We all are.
The wounds we carry are painful pieces of our lives. Love is what gets us through it. Love wins—love always and forever wins. Hate is not love, fear is not love, veiled sympathy and pity are not love—they represent the absence of love. Love can only unite and bring together; it can never be part of something that separates or divides. We are all vessels of this Divine love, and the world—and each person in it—needs to receive what we carry, now more than ever.
May the love you spread and share this month return to you and enrich your life, and may you and your loved ones benefit from all that is within the pages of this July issue.
Joel Shuler, Publisher